MODSIM: Marriage Of Design & Simulation Is Marvelous

TECHNIA UK's Mike Hurst explains why simulation and design are better off together.

This video was sponsored by TECHNIA UK.

On this episode of Designing the Future, we spoke with Mike Hurst, Managing Director of TECHNIA UK. Mike shared his perspective on MODSIM, or integrated modeling and simulation, a convergence of the two technologies that aims to improve the product creation process. Mike also spoke about generative design, digital twins, and how engineers of the future may be trained.

Learn more about MODSIM at

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Michael Alba: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Designing The Future. Or, maybe today we should call it Simulation-Driven Designing The Future. Because, on this episode, we’ll be discussing a convergence between design and simulation. And it’s one that seeks to place simulation upfront, and earlier in the design process. This is commonly called among other names, simulation-driven design as I horridly punned earlier. Now, joining me to discuss this topic is Mike Hurst, Managing Director of TECHNIA UK, a PLM company and platinum partner of Dassault Systèmes. Mike has a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Hertfordshire and a Master’s in management from the University of South Wales. He’s been in his current role at TECHNIA for nearly three years. Mike, thanks so much for coming on the show today.

Mike Hurst: Thank you, Michael. Really looking forward to our conversation and appreciate the invite.

Michael Alba: So, I thought it would be great to start off our discussion just with the definition. Now, I mentioned simulation-driven design upfront, but Dassault Systèmes has their own preferred terminology, which is MODSIM. Shorthand, for Integrated Modeling And Simulation. I think these are getting at the same core concept, but perhaps there’s not a 100% overlap. So, could you just start off by explaining what MODSIM is? And how, if at all, it differs from simulation-driven design?

Mike Hurst: No, I think that’s a really important starting point. All of us in industry, you come up with phrases and terminology that help you communicate with people within the industry about topics that they should know about. But, for people who aren’t as close to that thinking stage of it, it doesn’t make immediate sense what MODSIM might be. And it is a phrase and a term that’s been developed really, as an abbreviation to talk about that simulation-led modeling activity, which is, as you pointed out already, the convergence of design and modeling into the simulation field of expertise, as well.

Michael Alba: Could you maybe take us through some of the benefits of MODSIM, in contrast to what would be, a more traditional approach?

Mike Hurst: Sure, I think there’s a couple of aspects to it. If you look at an operational level with any product creation process, one of your challenges as you go through, is a traditional gated approach to product creation, is that you go through each of the phases and you try and get to the gate process, and then get signed off. And typically, when you get into the development phase, there’s multiple sub-phases in there as well, where you might do alpha design, beta design. And eventually, get to prototyping before pre-production. And really, traditionally, how that would’ve been conducted would be, from the digital model, moving into the physical model, and then going through validation testing, just to try and stress-test it against real-world environments. Now, the challenge of course, of that, is that you can only test within a limited extreme, you can’t put your product through every condition.

And so, therefore it’s a real challenge to really stress-test across a whole variety of scenarios. So, one of the real things at an operational level, is that by using simulation, you can expand the number of test scenarios that you could go through and the extremes and conditions and boundaries that you can stretch. So, I think, that’s very much around an operational basis. Similarly, if you think about what happens when you go through that testing process and actually find that there’s an issue, and what do you do in terms of having made those physical prototypes, investing in that physical test equipment, what happens to the product and the time and material that have been used to create that test environment? So, the opportunity to eliminate waste as part of that activity, is really important.

So, if you look at that from an operational, in terms of a development point of view, there’s some tangible, real-life activities that go along the way. But, I think what we’re seeing at societal level and an environmental level right now, is that we’re actually really concerned about the sustainability aspect and therefore from both a business sustainability, environmental sustainability, anything that you can do to optimize your processes, to actually drive waste out at a purely process level, has the opportunity for some real gains. And then, clearly from a societal point of view, anything that you can simulate that reduces the impact of the product, the consumption materials, or how that’s brought to market, then that stage, that has a real bigger impact and much greater need. And I think we’re all driven by those free levels of need with what MODSIM can deliver for us.

Michael Alba: And on that point, simulation-driven design, this concept of integrating simulation with the design process, it’s been around for decades, since the early 1990s. So, it’s really in the past few years though, that we’re starting to see this big push from a lot of the major software vendors, trying to get their users to have common platforms where they can do both design and simulation. And so, could you elaborate on why we’re seeing that interest? Or, that surge of interest in this paradigm now?

Mike Hurst: Sure. I think, as with all technologies, there’s a maturing and a coming of age. And if you look historically, simulation as you say, has been around for a long time. And if you consider it as part of a process whereby, somebody goes for the design process and potentially either makes a parallel prototype part and submits that for testing, or potentially they submit a version of the design in for simulation. Those things are done as post-process activities from the design. And as I said earlier, that has the real opportunity to create waste, or the fact that actually, you’re simulating an iteration that’s behind where the current design is. So, you may not get the full results that you’re looking at. The other aspect of that, is that historically, there haven’t been the platforms and tools and maturity of tools, to provide that digital threat between the design and simulation silos.

And one of the challenges that come from that, is of course, the handoffs between each of those processes, really introduce some waste as well. So, I think those are key aspects to it. But, the third angle to it, is really around the fact that probably over the years, there’s been a real sentiment that the best way to approach simulation, is to use the absolute vesting class tool for that specific piece of technology, or that specific piece of simulation that you’re looking at. And often, people would say that, that becomes CAD agnostic at that point. So, people wouldn’t necessarily think about the synergies that can be derived by having a tool set that both, takes the design element, the modeling element, and takes into simulation. And the gains from actually doing that, using a common tool set and having that continuity between that design and the simulation tool, has the opportunity to give those much wider gains, than you would do by doing it as a handoff process, using one tool set, and then moving into a perhaps, very niche, or specialist tool, to take it to the next stage.

Michael Alba: So, does that mean that organizations who want to try out this MODSIM approach, they’re going to have to switch to perhaps, a new engineering software platform to be able to get these gains? Or, is there some way of achieving this same effect with the tools they already have?

Mike Hurst: Sure. If you look for any business engineering process, you look and you think, “We must wait for the tool, in order to get these gains.” And the real challenge on that, is that you end up doing nothing, because the investment, or the time at which you could get the gains, gets dismissed. You can still rely on the fact that actually you have got disjointed tools, and as long, in some respects, that you turn around and say, “Actually, we’re making a very conscious decision that actually we’re going to use a separate set of tools.” You will get some incremental improvements, but what you won’t get, is you won’t get the step change. So, if you look at any organization, which is using disparate tool sets and think of about the way in which that, they manage the information, they share the information and collaborate, and the speed at which they can make those changes, and the agility, if you are doing that through separate systems, then the real risk is that you get some gains, because you’ve improved the process and you’ve utilized a simulation capability.

But, what you are not getting, is that multi-stakeholder insight, where you’ve got that immediate communication between design teams, simulation teams, and also moving into the manufacturing field as well. So again, across the organization and vertically in the organization, both up and down, is unlikely that you’re going to get the gains that you should achieve, if you use an integrated tool.

Michael Alba: So, the integrated tool is now converging the software together. Do you anticipate the actual roles themselves blending together as well? If you have a designer here and an analyst here, are those going to start to move closer and closer together to be one role?

Mike Hurst: Yeah. I mean, if I look at my own organization, we’ve got an Engineering Center of Excellence, which is really historically, been based around taking somebody’s concept design and turn it into a manufactured product. And then, we look at our Simulation Center of Excellence, whereby actually, we really looked to use advanced simulation tools, to resolve challenging engineering problems. And historically, those things would’ve been looked at as different entities, or as different activities within the organization, communicating to those specialist fields. Even within our own organizations, we’ve seen now the synergies by grouping those two entities together, and that’s not to make them just generalists. What that is, is to smooth out the flow between that design activity, creating the geometry, having it on the same tool set, and being able to share that geometry, even in a simplified form and take that into the simulation activity.

And I think what we’ve seen from that, at that stage, is that you really get the gains from that communication and collaboration. So, we are seeing it in our own organization that, that’s the way forward. It doesn’t take away by any stretch, the capabilities and space specialisms of the two different professions. It’s just that people have the opportunity to blend and collaborate and remove some of those handoffs.

Michael Alba: And then, purely from the design software point of view, how do you craft that new platform that integrates both these CAD and simulation tools, in a way that’s agreeable to everybody, that doesn’t frustrate everybody?

Mike Hurst: Sure. And I think, probably we’ve got some great experience in there as well, where everything is moving to a more platform-based environment, from the world, or history, or legacy of having tool sets that were application-specific. And in those applications-specific, they solved the problems and tasks that they were designed to achieve. But, as we see with all tool sets, even the ones we’re talking on today, the ability to integrate communication tools, the ability to share data, is aided by having these platform solutions. And the way we go about it, is that you have a backbone to actually have that collaboration. And then, you have roles which are specific to the activity. That’s either the designer, or the simulation engineer, utilized. But, what can be shared seamlessly is that data in the background. So, that model that’s been created, that is a universal truth, that flows between those parts of the business.

Michael Alba: So, you don’t share this concern then? One of the most common objections I hear is, and you alluded to this, that generalization that you’re washing away that expertise of the analysts, you’re putting in the hands of the designers, and you could wind up with garbage results, garbage in, garbage out. Now, that’s not to discredit the designers. I’m sure they’re capable of learning it, but you’re giving them the tools, they’re simplified versions, and you’re expecting them to be able to do these simulations in 30 seconds. Is that a concern that you share as well?

Mike Hurst: Yeah, I mean, it’s really interesting. We shouldn’t forget that design engineers and simulation engineers all start from a very high base. Often, these people have invested heavily, in their education and their professional development, are chartered engineers and actually stand by those engineering ethical standards. And it’s something that as profession, that they’re proud of. And by no means, is there a scenario where any degradation in terms of capability, or mindset comes from that? What you do see probably, is a case where people go down their specialist routes, in certain respects, because that’s what their preferences, or opportunity presents. But, most people as they go through their engineering development, will have come across the fundamentals of analysis and simulation, but may not have used it. So, there’s an awareness within those people.

The things we have to do as an industry, is help those engineers relearn some of those skill sets, some those activities. And it’s really about using it, or losing it, to some extent in terms of, they may be well aware, they may be able to do basic calculations, but may not have used the tool sets. So, it’s re-familiarizing them with those capabilities and providing training, coaching, and mentoring to an appropriate degree. We don’t necessarily need design engineers to be absolute specialist simulation engineers in a very targeted zone. What we’re trying to enable them to do, is to get the gains that are available, from doing enough analysis and simulation to validate the design, before it then goes into further validation, be that final physical testing, or very specific simulation and what the drivers may be from that. So, in no way, does this generalize people to the point where they become a truly, universal, or vanilla role. People have their cause and their strengths, for sure.

Michael Alba: Do you think even that might change in the future as this paradigm takes hold? And engineers might actually go to school for these dual roles and have that expertise for both?

Mike Hurst: Yeah. I think without doubt, and if I look at the talent pipeline coming to our own business, we really appreciate and applaud the young engineers coming through and joining our business and growing their capabilities along the way. It is without doubt, a development pathway, to move across those different realms. So, yeah, for sure, that’s something that we see, and we are leveraging it as well within our own organization.

Michael Alba: There are two more technologies I wanted to wrap into this discussion. The first, is generative design, which is this other big buzzword in this industry. And one of the prototypical examples of generative design is topology optimization. And there are a few different types of technologies here, but how does generative design fit into the MODSIM approach? Is this designer technology? Or, an analyst technology? Or, both?

Mike Hurst: Well, I guess this not only takes you from design and analysis, but it also takes you into the realms of manufacturing. So, if you look at it, this is the truest sense of MODSIM in some respects. In terms of it’s taking in that model and simulating not only what its physical properties are and what will occur to it, put on the different conditions. But, what it’s actually doing, is saying, “What are the scenarios, by which I need this model to operate in? And what’s the envelope and constraints that it has to fit in? And what’s the duress and fatigue that it has to work in. And with that, depending on the constraints you put in, and the key performance indicators that you prioritize, you have the capability within the tool set now to very much prioritize those and to come up with a range of designs that are optimized, for either a different use case, or a different manufacturing process.

And so, going back again, to the big societal drivers, in terms of, making high performance components, high performance systems, doing that in a light-weighting basis, making sure it’s really efficient from a manufacturing process perspective, limiting the amount of resources and materials that are used in the production of those products and components. This really is a step that takes it from design simulation and into manufacturing.

Michael Alba: Yeah, it’s very interesting set of technologies. And I wonder if we look forward 50, 100 years, do you think maybe generative design will obviate this entire discussion? Where we have the human designers and the analysts, and now we’re just going to replace everybody with generative design and whatever technologies come next. Is that, is that something you ever think about?

Mike Hurst: As the world of AIs and machine learning, when you look at it, at what point does the human become ineffective in that role? But, the reality, as we know, is that, that’s unlikely to be the case. The creativity, the thought leadership and the inspiration that people have, that’s the value add that they bring to any design process. And, that innovation is often driven by need, which isn’t simulated. It isn’t necessarily, how machine learned. This is true innovation and problem solving, from great creative people that take us through the design process. And so, hopefully not, I guess, is the way I’d look at it.

Michael Alba: Yeah. But, that creativity that you mentioned, I mean, technologies like generative design can sometimes show more creativity, or at least a different creativity. Designs that we would never be able to create, the computer comes up with.

Mike Hurst: Yeah, sure. And I think, if you look at that, as with anything, when you’re able to present something to somebody as a prototype, or something that you can then critique it and work out what’s the best for the application. So, at that stage, even that when it comes up with another iteration, you have the opportunity to put that human creativity and that spark that says, “Actually, we can apply it in this way, or enhance it even further.” But, without doubt, hopefully what that will do, is it will optimize the process, streamline it, gets back to the whole point of sustainability, both business level and environmental level. That actually, you lean your process and your ability to get to market quicker and solve some of the challenges that, karma of society and the planet facing at the moment, that really starts to address some of those issues. So, it really is, not only an operational issue, it’s a societal issue as well.

Michael Alba: Absolutely. So, the other technology I wanted to wrap into this discussion, is that of the digital twin, or as Dassault, calls it, the virtual twin. So, how does fit into the paradigm of MODSIM?

Mike Hurst: Yeah, I’m really enthusiastic about this. When you look at, what was the purpose of PLM over the ideas? Or, even PDM in those days, so product data management movements, to product life cycle management, really at that point, it was about data management to a greater, or lesser extent, cyber focus on design, or moving into the wider sphere. Sometimes, that could be a conceptual idealism that comes through, that you can drive some efficiencies, but where are the real gains? I think where people are now seeing, is that there’s a real driver now, as the points that I mentioned, both operationally and at an environmental level. So, at a strategic level, we’re seeing drivers now in a real need. And as we’re starting to see that, legislation will start to really drive improvements and there will be KPIs put on organizations to improve what products they bring to the market and how efficient they are.

Now, the whole point behind that, is that having MODSIM as part of that digital twin, which takes you from design to simulation, and then further, still into simulating that manufacturing process and building process. And then, yet again, once it’s in the field from a serviceability point of view, you really need to be able to simulate that, not only from a design perspective and looking at fatigue and stress and thermals and, electromagnetic interference. It’s really how you make this thing.

The design for manufacture principles that are deep seated in, in most manufacturing organizations, the design for service activity, and the ability to actually think about when that product is at midlife, or end of life, how is it going to operate? And if you have to send out field engineers to address that, or even end users. So, it’s self-service, how do you make and design those products and components, so that they can have that extended life cycle. So, I think from my personal opinion is that, MODSIM and the societal change that we’re in at the moment, is the coming of age and the maturing of platform tools. And it gives it real purpose.

Michael Alba: Yeah, in a sense, you have to have, right from the beginning of the design phase, think about the simulation. If you want to create this digital twin, or virtual twin, actually, is there a difference there? I should have asked.

Mike Hurst: I think it’s the ability, you got digital continuity and it is a digital twin, whichever way you look at it. But, the fact that we are living in a virtual world now. If you look at what’s happened over recent times where we’re all working on a distributed basis, it’s not just the fact that this, these, these models and representations are digital. It’s the fact that they are virtual. And if you see tool sets where people can work on them, both, using virtual headsets to create that virtual reality, where they can be doing that interactively, across multiple locations, that takes it beyond being just a digital twin and turns it into a virtual twin. And even as I said before, when you start seeing these products and components going into the field, you may have seen with field service glasses, the ability to see how that model comes up and actually see that physically, in the field as well. So, I think, that’s a subtle but important distinction and the maturing of the technology.

Michael Alba: All right, Mike, I want to ask you one last question, just in your capacity at TECHNIA, where you help a lot of organizations implement their own PLM systems, to do things like MODSIM. What advice do you have for organizations that are looking to take this approach?

Mike Hurst: So, I think, if you look at what your drivers are for a business. What are the pressures that are going to come on you as an organization? Both, from an innovation point of view, a competitive advantage point of view. What societal and sustainable drivers are you going to seeing and be obliged, as a good system, within our society, to actually deliver on? So, have a look at those drivers and work back from there, really. And I think as you work through the organization with any business engineering, or process engineering, look for the waste that’s in there and really say, “How can we reduce those timelines? Starting to get those products through the design and the production process. What can we do to extend their life in the field? Make them more serviceable? And those are the drivers.

And then, that’s the why? And the how then, really comes down to the tool set, which is great. There’s the MODSIM tools that we’ve been describing and talking about the platforms. And then, when you really drill that down to level, it’s about having the capability within your organization to really enact that change and to actually have the knowledge and the skills to do it. So, I think, when you look at the drivers, look at the waste, and then look at the tools that you need to enable it. It’s then making sure that you support your teams through that competency, either development, or relearning. So, that actually, they’re confident to actually put those tools, and use them as part of their job, not as a post-process exercise, but really something that they do and becomes a, business-as-usual activity. And I think, that would be my recommendation.

Michael Alba: Great. Well, we appreciate that advice. And Mike, thank you so much for joining us today on Designing The Future.

Mike Hurst: Thank you, really appreciate being here.

Michael Alba: And thanks to you for tuning in. We’ll catch you next time.

Written by

Michael Alba

Michael is a senior editor at He covers computer hardware, design software, electronics, and more. Michael holds a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Alberta.